What we have seen and heard we are telling you so that you too may be in union with us, as we are in union with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. We are writing this to you to make our own joy complete. This is what we heard from him and the message that we are announcing to you: God is light. There is no darkness in him at all. If we say that we are in union with God while we are living in darkness, we are lying because we are not living the truth. But if we live our lives in the light, as he is in the light, we are in union with one another and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin. (I John 1: 3-8)
The Epiphany and the Feast of the Lord’s Baptism are feasts of the manifestation of God in the world. To be manifest, there must be light because in order to see, we need light. Physical light reveals physical objects; spiritual light reveals spiritual subjects; divine light reveals divine realities. In the early Church, Baptism was called “Illumination” or “Enlightenment”. Why? Because the baptized soul is filled with light, the deifying light of God united to us in baptism, a light that continues to grow in brightness as each of us grows deeper in our communion with God throughout our lifetime.
In religious art, think of the haloes surrounding the heads of saints or the gold backgrounds of old pictures: they are symbolic renderings of the divine light in which they are immersed–the light of the new creation. Earlier I had referred to St. Gregory of Nazianzen and his consideration of the divine light; he teaches that we, believers and baptized into Christ, are immersed in this very deifying light. That is the light that surrounded the shepherds the night of Christ’s birth and led the Magi to Bethlehem of Judah. That is the light that filled Mary, the Mother of Jesus, the God-bearer, at her conception in the womb of her mother, St. Anne; that is the light that overflowed from her to fill the soul of John, six months in the womb of his mother, Elizabeth.
This is the same light that St. Benedict refers to at the conclusion of the Prologue to his Rule that transforms the responsive monk and nun. That deifying light marks indelibly the soul of each and every baptized Christian, a light of God that grows throughout a faith-filled lifetime, nourished by acts of faith and hope and love corresponding to Christ’s life and love for us.
Yes, we must respond, but this is not our work but God’s work in us.